A 21-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1973
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, February 17, 1973
There are times when I wonder if, despite all my artistic and literary pretensions, I am really just a shallow person.
I’m thinking of this in connection with the An American Family cinema-verité TV series, about your typical California family with five spoiled kids, parents who are splitting up, a selfish flaming queen son, laziness, smugness and all our other American virtues.
I, too, tend to gloss things over and say, “Wow, things are rosy” and “Life is okay,” but things are never really that rosy or okay. There are moments when I’m just struggling to keep afloat. Ronna and I talked about things like that late last night: really deep stuff. Talking is almost more intimate than having sex.
Yet it’s been a fairly pleasant 24 hours. Last evening Marc drove me over to Ronna’s and went up with me. Her mother and brother were getting ready to leave today for Maryland to visit some relations.
It was very icy out, and Marc drove slowly as he took Ronna and me to the college and dropped us off at Gershwin Theatre. Ronna had gotten free tickets to Paul Cox’s production of Brecht’s Mother Courage because she was going to review it for Kingsman.
The first act of the play was interminably boring, which was surprising since the star, Tresa Hughes, is an actress with great credentials on Broadway whom I’ve enjoyed on soap operas and in a few movies.
But it was still wooden and terrible, and I was annoyed although I tried very hard not to show Ronna how I felt because I was afraid it might affect her own attitude toward the show when she reviews it.
But at intermission, Ronna said to me, “The first few scenes were really awful,” and I had to agree. Most of the others we talked to during intermission – Mason and Libby had come with Skip, and Vito and Nancy were there, too – also disliked the play.
Still, our intermission chatter was pleasant; it’s really nice to have friends. By the end of intermission, Ronna said she’d decided not to review it after all, and strangely enough, after that decision, the second act was not so bad. Parts of it were even moving.
Ronna and I got the Flatbush Avenue bus and trundled home in the 15° icy night. We went into the basement and started cuddling and suddenly it was much warmer.
Although I find the initial intensity of our relationship is slowing down, I’m still as much in love with her as I was at the start. I guess I now feel differently than I did a couple of years ago: a quiet, homey, blue jeans and bacon-and-eggs kind of love is much preferable to stormy, highly intense passion.
I feel comfortable with Ronna, but that doesn’t mean she’s my whole life. And I don’t want to be her whole life, either, certainly. We can love others and have different interests and be separated, and it doesn’t change anything.
Today was a bright, frigid day. I took the D train into Manhattan, wandered around the Village, came home and picked up my precious Pontiac – the mechanic said, “You’ll have to baby it now” – which I filled up with gas and washed.
I’m leaving in half an hour to pick up Ronna.
Tuesday, February 20, 1973
My thoughts seem very jumbled tonight. I don’t know if it’s due to my tiredness, or if I’m coming down with something; perhaps I’m just getting too involved with my reading of Crime and Punishment and I’m becoming a Dostoevskian hero.
It was a rather strange day, anyway. I awoke late and it was one of those “conversion” days of school, to make up for yesterday off: although a Tuesday, we followed a Monday schedule.
I was passing the phone booth in LaGuardia when this strange girl came up to me and asked me to do her a favor. She said she was going to dial a number and I was to get on and ask for Bernard. It seems that Bernard is her boyfriend and “his pig of a mother” won’t let him talk to her but would let him talk to a guy. It worked.
In Russian, Prof. Roberts discussed the effect of the phony “execution” on Dostoevsky’s life: what a horrible thing that must have been.
I hung around LaGuardia for a while with Stanley and Skip. Skip took Elspeth to a gay bar this weekend; she told me privately that she felt really uncomfortable there. Mason had to go into the hospital today, with the surgery scheduled for tomorrow.
Ronna came into the lobby at noon, but she had to go to a Kingsman meeting. Mike and Peter were handing out petitions for rep candidates. This is one student government election I want nothing to do with; I’ve done more than my share already.
I was very pleased when Costas said how much he liked my story. He invited me to join him and Sid in writing their satiric articles under the pen name “Euripides Dervis.”
I went home for lunch, and then as I was returning to school, I noticed a traffic light was out, and then another. Finally I realized there was a general blackout of that part of Brooklyn. Stores closed down, cops directed traffic – just like 1965.
Ronna and others were led out of the LaGuardia basement by flashlight. The inside of the building looked so funny in total darkness. In Boylan Hall, Prof. Mayers canceled our Afro-American Studies class, so I got to socialize a bit more.
I ran into Elayne, giving her a big kiss. I hadn’t seen her in months, it felt like. She’s working in the Art Department now.
I went out for pizza with Marty and Davey, and then I hung around outside, joking with Vito and Nancy and Joey.
When I drove Ronna home, she discussed her fears about going with Susan and Felicia to Europe this summer – but she is going. And she says I’m “making it easier” for her by not trying to get her to stay here.
After the power was restored, Gary called to say he may finally have a job; he’s got a job interview tonight in Manhattan.
Friday, February 23, 1973
A depression settled on me this afternoon. I’m feeling sick, but I’m sure that’s just a form that that my mental problems are manifesting themselves as. It’s sort of like what Mrs. Ehrlich terms “superstition”: I think things are very bad at the beginning, so things in the immediate future will look good in comparison.
She and I had a really good session last night, and I think I’m beginning to trust her a lot. We talked about my worries about taking my parents’ place while they’re gone, about being in loco parentis to my brothers.
Mrs. Ehrlich said I didn’t have to parentis like Mom and Dad. “No,” I said, “I’ll just be loco.”
We discussed Ronna’s trip to Europe. I think the reason I drove to Trenton yesterday was that was a trip I can handle, unlike Europe (or Mexico). Mrs. Ehrlich said it’s good that I know that I’m not ready for Europe, that it’s something I can work on in the future.
And I think I got an insight into why I’m anticipating a fight with Ronna: because once we have one finally, I want to know we can endure it and still be together afterwards.
Last night, on the way home, I nearly got a ticket. I went through a broken red light on Parkside Avenue, and a cop stopped me. I told him it was broken, that I’d sat at the red light through four songs on the radio, and he looked back for a while and saw that it was indeed broken and so let me go.
At home, Mom and Dad were watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Dad told me he and Lennie might buy a luncheonette. This morning they left early for the airport. I took Jonny to school and then went to BC.
In LaGuardia, I gave Elspeth her birthday present, then got a Kingsman. The “Euripides Dervis” column I wrote with Costas was really fun, everyone said.
I thought Ronna’s theater review was excellent even if she took a weird way around it, saying that Brecht’s script, not the director or actors, were responsible for the production’s problems. Still, I really am so proud that she’s my girlfriend.
After Russian, I talked with Josh, who’s really worried about his older sister. She called yesterday from Israel to say she has a growth on her lung. She’s flying in tomorrow and will enter the hospital for a biopsy. Josh’s mother, who works in the payroll office in Boylan and who I like a lot, is very upset.
Cutting Classics, I went to LaGuardia, where Mikey said Mason is okay and should be out of the hospital soon. I discussed politics with Brian and fooled around with Mara; then Vito, Skip and I went to the Theater office to see who got cast for Boys in the Band.
Mikey, Avis, Alan and I had lunch in the deli; Avis and Alan really seem to be hitting it off again. After Ronna’s class, we hung around for a while; it’s so nice to be with her. She’s coming over tonight, but I’m not feeling too optimistic about us having a good time.
Tonight actually did turn out pretty bad, so it wasn’t superstition so much as a valid premonition. It was just about the worst time Ronna and I have ever had together. Although we didn’t fight or anything, I was just so down that I couldn’t be very communicative.
First, Ronna has had this sore on her chin for the past couple of days, and yesterday I noticed I began getting these scaly, pus-y scabs on the sides of my face, under and around my sideburns. By late this afternoon, they really started itching and spreading and I felt really crummy.
When I picked up Ronna, we rode around for a while and I just talked about how rotten I felt. She was feeling terrific, and I was just bringing her down.
Also, Marc had seven or eight strange kids up in his room with the stereo blasting. You could hear whippets popping and the whole upstairs reeked of marijuana.
When I told Marc that Jonny wanted to go to bed, that it’s his room too, he just looked at me with a stoned expression and said “Fuck you” and all his friends started laughing.
The whole evening was a complete disaster. I took Ronna home early and took care of Jonny, letting him stay in my bed while I’m in the basement.
Monday, February 26, 1973
Things seem to be looking up after a terrible weekend. Perhaps the worst is over, but pessimist that I am, I cannot definitely believe that yet. Still, I have begun to be a little more cheerful.
This morning, after taking Jonny to school, I went back under the covers of my bed for another couple of hours, deciding that I couldn’t face class today.
When I finally did wake up and found that my facial eruptions were growing worse, I decided to call a dermatologist from the phone book to make an appointment for the afternoon.
On my way out the door to school, I received a nice surprise in the mailbox: I scored in the 80th percentile in the GRE test in Literature. I found the campus filled with frenetic activity when I arrived. There had been some sort of drug bust of students, and lots of television reporters were around.
Also, the student government election campaign had started, with the only two parties now being the Third World and the Populists, a shaky coalition led by Mendy, Phyllis, Melvin, Sid and two Jewish Student Union types.
Libby said Mason was feeling better, that he’s walking now, and that he appreciated my get-well card.
Ronna and I got lunch in Boylan, ate it outside, and then we went to the doctor on Marlborough Road. He said it was a form of pyoderma, similar to the impetigo Dr. Fletcher had diagnosed, and prescribed a lotion and an antibiotic.
For that, which took about five minutes, would you believe he charged me $35? Apparently, although they were eager to take the money, they felt it was too vulgar to write it out; I noticed the notation on my chart was “XXXV,” as if I’d had a skin problem in ancient Rome.
I took Ronna back to school and came home to do my reading in Crime and Punishment.
Later, I called Alice to find out how things were. She said that she’s doing freelance writing for both Flatbush Life and Brooklyn Today; that she and Andreas were in Massachusetts this weekend; that she’ll be going to Europe in May; and that Robert got a job teaching History at BC this summer.
Next I spoke to Gary, who’s very down. He still hasn’t found a suitable job, and besides, it depresses him to visit his grandfather in the convalescent home and to see how sick he is.
That reminded me to call Grandma Ethel, who said she’s feeling a bit better. Lastly, I spoke to Ronna. Things are really copacetic between us again. Keep your fingers crossed, folks.
Wednesday, February 28, 1973
My good feelings yesterday lasted the entire evening. I called Mason, who sounded hoarse; he said he’s weak but coming along. Then I drove out to Green Acres, enjoying the long drive and walking through the nearly-empty mall, buying birthday gifts.
When I arrived home, I received a call from Dad, who said he’s fine and the weather is beautiful in Acapulco.
Soon after that, Ronna called me after being on the phone all evening, first dealing with Susan’s self-pitying hysterics. Then she spoke to Ivan, who said he was fine, that Gene McCarthy is coming to his Poli Sci class, and that he’s doing The Miracle Worker in his acting program at The New School.
After those calls, Ronna had a friendly chat with Henry. It made me feel proud to know what a special girl Ronna is, to have two ex-boyfriends who still like her and trust her.
This morning, though, I got upsetting news – from Josh. His sister has Hodgkin’s disease. “Life sucks,” Josh said, and walking with him after Russian class, I found it hard to disagree. Josh doesn’t show his feelings openly, but I can see how devastated he is.
At noon, I met Ronna, who said that she’d been up all night worrying about Europe. Her family doesn’t want to spend all that money, and she kind of decided not to go. But what to tell Susan, who says that this trip is her own “last chance for happiness”?
For the first time in months, I had lunch alone with Avis. “All my old neuroses are coming back,” Avis said, so she’s considering going back to therapy again.
Alan is always busy with his mountain-climbing and stuff, and what with Avis’s work at the store and her Classics homework, they hardly see each other.
“I have no boyfriend, really,” she said. But at least she’s doing things on her own, like going skiing with Teresa this Friday.
After spending time hanging around Ronna, I went to the Pub with Mikey, Mike and Marty. It was like an old Mugwump strategy session. Mike has decided to run for student government president in May, and we began planning the groundwork for the campaign.
Back in LaGuardia, Ronna told me she talked with Susan, who said Ronna was being selfish; now Susan has stopped talking to her. As we went to our 3 PM classes, I told Ronna, “I’ll be with you no matter what.”
After Afro-American Studies – we’re doing an interesting book, The House Behind the Cedars – I came home to prepare supper for my brothers.